My Life As Death: Chapter 1

I’m close to finishing My Life As Death so I thought I’d try something new. I’ll be posting one chapter a week to Wattpad in hopes of generate some interest. But I know that not everyone is on Wattpad, so I’m going to post them here as well. I still plan on pursuing a traditional publishing contract with MLAD, so at some point I may have to take them down, but for now I just want to share it with anyone interested in reading it in serialized format. So here goes:

Premise:

Murderers? Rapists? Child Molesters? Who would you kill for a second chance at life?
When Nate dies in a car accident after leaving a party, he gets the opportunity to return to the life he left too early, if he agrees to act as the hand of death for the five people he is assigned. He even gets a guarantee that they are all killers, rapists or child molesters. But nothing is ever as easy as it appears, especially when everyone, even those closest to you, have secrets.

Chapter 1

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Weed asked, though he already knew the answer. “If things go bad there’s no going back.

“I’ve got to do this,” I replied, though I wasn’t sure exactly why. Usually Weed was the one trying to talk me into doing stupid stuff. The fact that he was trying to talk me out of doing something made me question everything, but only for a minute.

“You know I’m the first in line to watch you crash and burn, but I really don’t know about this.”

“You can either help, or go on home.”

“I’m here for you man,” Weed replied, “Just tell me that for good or bad, this is it. I’ve got my own love life I’ve got to think about.”

“Don’t worry,” I said, “Miss December 1995 will always be there for you underneath your mattress.”

“Hell yeah she will.”

I knew Weed hated me obsessing over Shawna, and it had to be awkward for him. The three of us grew up together, best friends since we were eight, and Weed and I went back even farther. It probably wasn’t right, the way I felt about her, but as they say, the heart wants what the heart wants. When she first moved to town she was shy, backwards and sad, but I was drawn to her despite all of that; or maybe because of it. I don’t know. But the whys and hows don’t really matter. All I know is that she is the one girl who knew how screwed up I really was, and she stuck with me. Girls like that are rare, and special, so I decided to tell her just how I felt.

We stepped through the front door and into the pounding music while Billie Joe Armstrong told us how neurotic he was. I wasn’t even exactly sure whose house we were at, but that didn’t really matter. All I knew was that summer was almost over, the owners of the house were gone for the weekend, and Shawna was going to be there. She’d been away all summer and it was the first one I could remember without her. I’d gotten my driver’s license, a job, and finally put the finishing touches on my car but she wasn’t there to share any of that. The one good thing to come of it was that I’d finally decided to tell her exactly how I felt.

The place was filled with partiers flowing through every room of the house, mostly by kids from our high school, but there were also some I didn’t recognize. The kids I did recognize normally wouldn’t have been caught dead socializing with us in school, but it was the summer before our senior year and the alcohol was flowing freely so no one objected to us being there; some even raised a glass as we made our way past them and into the backyard.

Several kegs were set up around the inground pool, along with folding tables covered with plastic cups of beer. Weed and I each grabbed one and continued on, passing by other tables lined with the harder stuff. A lot of it was the cheaper junk, the 40 proof store brand liquor. High school kids don’t really care about what it tastes like or how much it burns going down. Mixing it with a good cola or an energy drink made it go down easier, and if you drink enough of it, you’d still get drunk.

I almost reached for a shot of 151 to get things started, but then I remembered Shawna and stopped myself. A little alcohol would definitely make it easier to tell her how I felt, a lot would make me sound like a complete idiot. I erred on the side of caution and decided to stick with the beer in my hand.

“I don’t think she’s here yet,” Weed said. “How ‘bout we get in a game while we wait?”

Several of the tables were set up for beer pong, one of which was standing open, just begging to be played. 

“Well?” He asked as he did his best pathetic puppy dog face.

“Okay, but only one game,” I said, against my better judgment.

The first game took almost no time, Weed really wasn’t that good. I looked around for Shawna, but still didn’t see her. However, our game had attracted a few spectators, mostly because of how bad Weed was doing.

“Let’s go again,” he called out, a little too loud over the Gin Blossoms’ Hey Jealousy .

I glanced around again, hoping to be saved by her smiling face, but to no avail.

“One more,” I replied,” but that’s it.”

He grinned like the cheshire cat as we started setting up the table with full cups.

Keeping my mind off Shawna proved to be a little more difficult as the second game wore on. The distraction wasn’t helping me at all; by the time the game ended I’d drank a little more than I’d intended and Weed had almost beat me.

“Good game,” I said, trying to not so subtly let him know I was done.

“Awe, come on,” he replied,” I almost had you that time! Give me one more shot.”

“I’m afraid not,” Shawna’s sweet voice said from right behind me. “I need to borrow him for a couple minutes.”

I spun around a little quicker than I probably should have, and made myself a little dizzy.

“You guys been here long?” She asked with a grin.

The words caught in my throat as I saw her beautiful face for the first time in months.

“Not too long,” I replied, composing myself, “but you know Weed.”

“Yes I do. That’s why I decided to save you from him, and from yourself.”

“I guess I owe you one.”

“I’ll add that to your tab,” she said. “But right now I want you to meet someone.”

I heard the words coming from her mouth but they weren’t making any sense as she led me back through the house and to a group of kids hanging just outside the front door. A couple of them were from the most popular group at our high school.

“Matt,” she called out, drawing the attention of an oversized abercrombie model in the middle of the group. His clothes were right out of a fashion magazine, complete with a sweater tied around his waist and red and black Air Jordans on his feet. One of those shoes probably cost more than all my clothes. I instantly disliked the guy, and the bleached tips of his over stylized hair didn’t help. Everything about the guy seemed fake, especially his smile, and it made me want to punch him in his plastic surgery perfect face. If he didn’t have at least thirty pounds of muscle on me, I might have.

“Come on,” Shawna said, pulling me into the middle of the group.

I had no choice but to follow.

“Nate, this is Matt. ”

Matt reached out his hand, and I would have been the jackass not to shake it.

“Matt,” she continued, “this is my best friend Nate.”

The words cut through me like a knife, distracting me enough that I almost didn’t notice how hard Matt was squeezing my hand. I gave it right back to him which seemed to catch him off guard for a second but he quickly continued his practiced grin.

“Nice to meet you,” he said, releasing my hand.

“Same here,” I replied while trying to fake his same level of sincerity.

“I’m so glad you guys could finally meet,” Shawna said to me, “I’ve told Matt all about you and I was afraid you weren’t going to be here before we had to leave.

“What?” I asked, not sure I’d heard her right. 

“I know we talked about hanging out tonight, but I kinda can’t stay. Matt’s got a thing…”

“Oh, I get it,” I said, cutting her off before any of the details had a chance to piss me off any further.

“See, I told you if he was really your best friend, he’d understand,” Matt said, with a little too much emphasis on the word friend.

“Of course,” I replied, trying to smile through clenched teeth.

“Thanks,” Shawna said, grabbing Matt’s hand, “then we should probably get going. Don’t let Weed get too out of control, and tell him we’ll hang out soon.”

“Have fun,” was all I could think to say as they headed towards a cherry red corvette parked at the curb.

“I’m sure we will,” Matt replied with a look in his eyes that told me exactly what he meant.

3 String Guitar Build Part 1: The Neck

In messaging with a customer, I realized that I have not posted a full 3-string build, so now is the time. I’m starting with the RG-10, solid body design and then I’ll walk through the RG-9 acoustic/electric body style, but they both start with the same neck/head:

To build the neck, with a 15 degree scarf joint, I use a compound miter saw and a simple angled jig:

Using this jig, I cut two two smaller (~8″) pieces 1″x2″ maple that have been thinned down to 0.60″ thick. These will be glued together to make the head. I also use this jig to cut a 15 degree angle on the end of the neck. I tend to work on multiple guitars at once, hence the 4 pieces:

This process can be sped up a little, but starting with a single piece of 1″x4″ but I tend to have more 1″x2″ laying around.

Once the head pieces are glued up, I then sand and place them until they are perfectly smooth. Then I glue them to the neck

The neck and head joint usually requires just a little more sanding/planing before the piece is ready fot the head shape to be cut.

I usually draw the head shape on, using my template, then start with the band saw to get the rough shape:

An oscillating drum sander helps dial in the final shape, before I drill the tuner holes:

Once the holes are drilled, I start to shape the neck. A 45 degree router bit gets me a good shape to start with:

From there, I use rasps, files, a belt sanded and a mouse sander to get the shape I want:

I don’t spend too much time on getting it perfect just yet, because there will still be a lot more work to do once we add the body.
This is the basic neck I use for both the RG9 and RG10 guitars. From here the processes take drastically different paths.

90’s Inspiration

My teen years took place in the 90’s, and My Life As Death has a lot of me in it, so it only makes sense that it would take place in the 90’s as well. I knew this from the very beginning but I didn’t realize how important it would be until recently.

I’ve been working on MLAD for a while now, and never really had a problem with writer’s block until a few days ago. I sat down to write, and had a scene envisioned in my head, but I just couldn’t write it. The scene was about the main character and his best friend (both high school seniors) out on a Saturday night so it should have been something easy enough for me to whip through but I just wasn’t feeling it. I thought about stepping away, but instead I decided to turn to Amazon music.

I started by pulling up the obvious Pearl Jam, STP and Nirvana, along with Green Day and Blink-182 but then I switched to a “Rediscover the 90’s” playlist and then to another one. Each song led me deeper and deeper into the memory hole. Before long I was listening to Skinyard, L7 and Gruntruck. There was also plenty of Collective Soul, AIC, Soundgarden, and Chili Peppers. Every song brought back so many memories and feelings that I was instantly able to continue writing.

I’ve always used music to motivate me while doing anything; writing, working out, running or even just doing the dishes, but this was the first time I used it to bring about senses and feelings from a particular time in my life. It worked surprisingly well, so I thought I’d share some of the nostalgia. You can find my 90’s Rock and Grunge playlist HERE.

The Changes Continue

As things started to settle in with the new factory job I really expected to be able to once again focus on my writing. Unfortunately life had other plans. Because the factory had a union, and they were shutting down operations at the other end of the plant, I was going to be bumped from my position. This meant a different job and different hours so I decided it was time to move on.

Thankfully I was able to find a new job within a week, and it’s a much cleaner environment, but it’s still a lot of hours and a lot of walking so I’m not nearly as energetic as I hoped to be at night. And while I have managed to get some writing done, it’s not been as much as I really wanted, though I do expect that to change shortly.

I’m finishing up three guitar builds this week, and I’m not currently taking any new orders, so I should have more time and energy to finish up a few projects around the house and also get more writing done. My goal is to have “My Life As Death” and possibly even “Zero Sum” completed before I start back to school for a second degree.

With everything that has happened this year I came to realize that I want to pursue a Mechanical Design Engineering degree. A nearby college offers the program so I decided now was the time to go after it. I’m sure it will slow down my writing and my guitar building but I’m also sure that it’ll be worth it in the end.

June Update – Writing and Guitars

Wow, it’s been a while since I’ve provided an update, so this one is long overdue. The main reason for my lack of updates is because I’ve been exhausted. Like a lot of people, my life was drastically changed when Covid hit. Not because of the actual virus, thankfully no one I know has been hit by it, but because of the reaction to it. Turns out, no one needs a designer during a pandemic, so I lost 90% of my freelance income. Thankfully my wife still had her job, and we had a little money saved back, but without knowing what to expect of the future, I immediately started applying for any and every job I could find. After 3 weeks of almost no income, I got a call about a job at a local factory. I had no idea what the job was, what shift I’d be working or even how much I would be paid; all I knew was that orientation was the next day. I immediately accepted.

Some how I lucked out and got a first shift position. And even though the pay is at the low end of the spectrum, there’s a whole lot of mandatory over time, it’s hot, dirty and physically exhausting, it’s a job. One positive aspect of it is that I lost over 20 lbs in the first month, and over 30 lbs so far. I’m almost down to the weight I was at 28, before I quit smoking and got a desk job.

Another positive about the job is that it really doesn’t require much brain power, so I’ve had a lot of time to think about my books. Unfortunately, I was too exhausted during the first month and a half to do anything with those thoughts once I got home. But my body has gotten a little more accustomed to averaging 25,000 steps a day while lifting 100’s of parts, so I’ve finally been writing again. My Life As Death is really coming along. I am even more positive now than ever, that this will be my best shot at a traditional publishing deal.

I’ve also given a lot of thought to my other books, though I haven’t been working on actually writing them right now. MLAD is my primary focus, and the writing is going so smoothly that I don’t want to disrupt it by trying to work on anything else. Once it’s done ( or God-forbid, I get writer’s block with it) I think I’ll be able to easily switch gears and finish up Zero Sum, and possibly even After the End.

In addition to writing, I’m also continuing to build guitars. Thankfully I’ve sold a few and I have a few orders to finish so I’m keeping busy with them. I also have a few builds started to add some much needed inventory to my online store (https://www.etsy.com/shop/RileyCustomGuitars). Right now I’ve only got one guitar left for sale, so I’ve got to get these done soon.

So my writing and guitar building are slowing coming back to normal, and hopefully my design career will be close behind them.

Fun with Fire

I started this next guitar with the idea of doing a budget build. I wanted to design a guitar that could be built with limited tools and for very little money. While the design changed a little over time, the basic concept remained the same.

To keep the cost down, I decided to use edge glued pine for the body, instead of my usual poplar.

I cut the two pieces, flipping the template over to cut and route the top piece. This helps hide the screw holes inside the finished body.

I also cut out the control cavity and neck cavity and routed a wiring channel in the top piece before gluing the two halves together. I used a dremel tool to route the wiring cavity so it wasn’t very pretty, but it worked. And once the guitar was assembled, no one would see it.

A lot of glue and clamps, and the body was ready for shaping and finishing.

At this point the body could be completed with just a little sanding and maybe a little rounding of the edges, but I decided to break out my files and give it some contours.

If you have a router, it makes this step a lot easier, but filing edge glued pine by hand isn’t that difficult, and getting the shape I wanted was actually pretty intuitive and enjoyable.

So with the body shape done, I needed some way to finish it. I’d learned about shou sugi ban years ago, and had always wanted to try it, so this seemed like to perfect opportunity. It fits well with the “budget” theme, and nothing screams rock-n-roll more than setting a guitar on fire.

Supposedly the flame treatment is enough to seal and protect the wood, but I ended up throwing on a clear topcoat, just for good measure.

As a “budget” build, especially for someone without a lot of tools, I had planned on using a bolt on neck from Guitar Fetish. I love these GF Basic necks, and for $33 you can’t beat the price, unless you happen to find one of the clearance necks. I’ve managed to pick up a couple of the “blemished” necks for $15-25 dollars, but that’s not typical.

I just happened to have a neck I’d already built, so I decided to use it instead of buying another one from Guitar Fetish, so I bolted it on.

Unfortunately, I forgot about taking pictures as I finished assembling the guitar. I used a standard hardtail bridge, a single volume pot, tuners and a magnetic pickup, all from mgbguitars.com.

This is where I deviated from my initial concept a little. I had planned on making the pickup and control cavity covers from wood, but then I changed my mind and 3D printed them. It still cost me next to nothing (~$0.50 for both), but I know most people don’t have 3D printers. And for anyone without a printer, the parts could still be made from wood.

So here’s the final product:

This was a really fun build, and a great way to use some of the parts I had laying around. Calculating the cost of everything I used, even though I already had most of it, this guitar cost me about $75. Having to buy the Guitar Fetish neck would probably take the cost closer to $100, but I still think that’s a great price for a custom, one-of-a-kind, guitar.

3 Strings – Something a little different

I’ve played guitar (not necessarily well) most of my life. It’s something I enjoy for myself but I don’t take it very seriously. I’ve also been a builder/creative type to some degree, so it makes perfect sense to me that I would eventually start building guitars. The one thing I could not have expected was that I would end up building a 3 string guitar.

The general term used for 3 and 4 string guitars is “cigar box guitars”, because most of them are actually made from cigar boxes. I came across a lot of these while researching guitar building, and there are a ton of really cool ones but I was only interested in “real” (in my mind) guitars, so I never really looked into them. But then something funny happened.

One of the companies I bought my supplies from (https://mgbguitars.com/) caters to the cigar box market. Several of the pieces on the “Lady in Red” build came from them, so I shared a couple pictures of the final build with them. The owner liked it and invited me to join a facebook group for cigar box builders. I was intrigued, so I accepted the invitation, and let me tell you; these guys are amazing.

The guys in the facebook group are some of the most genuine, and genuinely nice, people I’ve never met in person. And they share a passion for building amazing and creative guitars out of anything and everything they can find. Their passion is contagious, so I decided to build a CBG, even though I didn’t have a cigar box. But that’s okay, because these guys had shown me that a “cigar box” guitar can be built from anything.

I really like building guitar bodies, so I took the opportunity to design a new body style. This is what I came up with:

Building this 3 string was similar to building other guitars, but somehow felt easier. I made a few mistakes during the build, but all-in-all, I’m really happy with how it turned out. But even more importantly, I’m really happy with how it plays.

I’ve always played a traditional 6-string guitar in standard tuning, so I figured it would be weird to play a 3-string in open G tuning. It was a little weird at first, but also amazing. Playing this thing is just so easy and freeing. after a couple days I found myself able to jump in and play along with many songs as they streamed on spotify. I immediately fell in love; so much so, that I’ve already started building several more of them. I also ordered way too many cigar boxes to try my hand at a few traditional CBG builds use as well.

I had been told a couple weeks ago that due to the Covid-19 issues disrupting the aerospace industry I was going to be furloughed for two weeks starting next week. I planned on using this time to finishing building several of these guitars and putting them for sale. Then yesterday, I was informed that my contract had been cancelled. So while I will still be building several guitars, I’ll also have to use this time to try to find a new contract or permanent position. I don’t know if this will result in me having more or less time to build, but I will definitely post an update as soon as I have some guitars ready for purchase. In the mean-time you can check out my other goodies at https://www.etsy.com/shop/keyboardmonkeydesign

Writing in Public

Dean Wesley Smith just announced that he’s going to be “Writing in Public” again, and I love the idea. Basically, as a professional writer, he posts updates every day about the book he’s working on. He’ll include his thoughts on the writing, word counts etc…, and I love when he’s done this in the past. Unfortunately, I have not reached the point where I could do daily updates like that, because I don’t write every day, but his announcement did help me realize that I have not been providing updates on my books as often as I’d like. I have several books in process, and people do occasionally ask me about them, so I’m going to try to do better at providing updates, at least weekly. So in order to catch up anyone who’s interested, here is where each of the books stand:

My Life As Death
This is the book I’m working on the most. I believe it will give me the best shot at securing an agent and possibly a traditional book deal, so once it’s done I will start shopping it around. As of right now, based off word count and story structure, it is 60-70% done.
Word Count: 41,421

After the End
After the End is the novella that takes place after the end of 23 Hours. Initially I planned a four novella series starting with 23 Hours, but decided I liked how 23 Hours ended, so I never completed any other books. Right now it’s about 90% done, and I’m not sure if I want to finish it or not. It’s a fun story, and I have ideas for the other 2 parts of the series, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever pursue them.
Word Count: 21,271

Zero Sum
Zero Sum is the sequel to The Consciousness Puzzle. It’s my second highest writing priority, after MLAD. It’s very much a Mike Locke story, with a bit of intrigue, a little humor and a lot of action. It too, is about 60-70% complete. Once I complete MLAD, and as I look for an agent, I plan on finishing Zero Sum and publishing it as quickly as possible. I’be already got ideas for the next 3 Mike Locke stories and I’m dying to write them.
Word Count: 45,378

The Failed Exodus of Daniel James
As the name suggests, this is the sequel to The Dark Genesis of Daniel James. I started writing it just after finishing Dark Genesis, but then got the idea for The Consciousness Puzzle, then 23 Hours, etc… one thing led to another and Failed Exodus ended up neglected. I still think the book, and the plan for the rest of the series, is a good one, but there’s a lot that goes into writing the Daniel James series so it has dropped to 3rd or 4th on the priority list.
Word Count: 15,559

I have about 2 dozen other books I’ve started which will probably never see the light of day. I’ve also got about 3 dozen plot ideas I’d love to work on, but first I’ve got to finish these four.

So now that you’re all caught up, I hope to keep the updates coming. If there’s a particular book you’re dying for me to finish, let me know in the comment section.

Lady in Red Update

One of the great things about building guitars is experimenting and changing things as the mood strikes me. The Lady in Red build looked great, but a solid body guitar with piezo pickups just didn’t provide the sound I was looking for, so I decided to make some changes. I’ve got several guitars with humbuckers, but I don’t have any with single coil pickups so I swapped out the double piezos with a single coil pickup from MGB (https://mgbguitars.com/collections/pickups/products/guitar-parts-pickups-seven-fitty). I didn’t take any pictures of the process, but it was pretty straight forward. I routed a cavity in the body and drilled a hole connecting it to control cavity, then ran the wiring.

MGB sells a pickup cover for the seven-fitty but due to my setup it didn’t get the pickup as close to the strings as I wanted, so I 3D printed a new cover. I also 3D printed a logo for the head while I was at it. I can’t say I’m completely done with this one, but I love the way she sounds…for now.

Back to Writing…Sort of

My to-do list is dwindling down to just 43 projects left (plus a couple my wife is trying to sneak in) and the weather in Ohio in January pretty much sucks, so I’ve finally gotten back to writing. Last week I tried working on Zero Sum, the next Mike Locke book, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I made some progress, and recognized a few things that weren’t working, but I didn’t feel like I was getting back into the groove. Today I started back on My Life As Death, and things just started flowing. Something about this story and these characters just comes naturally to me, and I’m very thankful for it. With the projects I still have left, and some up-coming travel I have scheduled for my freelance design business, I am not sure how much writing time I will have, but with great writing sessions like this I should continue to make progress. The book is already about 75% done, so with any luck I should be able to get it finished by summer.